With new legislation on the horizon, Irish nightclubs and pubs are set to be brought in line with European standards with the proposed lengthening of permitted opening hours. Aoife Rooney examines the bill and speaks to potentially affected groups.
While there are many a stereotype associated with the ways in which Irish people choose to socialise, too many lean heavily on incorrect and overdone clichés that are just not representative of Irish people. If someone did want to make a slight toward the culture of going out in Dublin, why not take a look at the ancient licensing laws business owners face? Or the fact that the city is not equipped to facilitate socialisation effectively, be it a poorly planned out urban footprint or lackluster late night public transport. One issue that is seemingly being tackled recently, is the hours of operation currently allowed by nightclubs and pubs. Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee has put a timeline of a few months on the task, with the understood aim being to align Ireland’s nightclub and pub opening hours with the European average.
The proposed bill as entitled the Sale of Alcohol Bill 2021 is intended to allow what would be considered non-traditional venues such as museums and galleries to serve alcohol and remain open later during the weekdays, as well as extended serving hours for licensed premises like nightclubs and pubs. The bill was first mentioned earlier this year by Minister McEntee in the 2021 Justice Plan, where it is defined as objective 98, as hoping to “engage with the work of the Night-Time Economy Taskforce with a view to reviewing and modernising alcohol licensing.” With regard to nightclubs, it is opening hours that will see the most significant change, with 5 a.m. being the hoped new time of closure, which is still relatively modest when compared with London, and positively so with other European cities. Give Us The Night, a volunteer group focused on the “campaigning for positive changes to nightlife in Ireland” establish the night-time economy operating hours from 6pm to 6am as the standard.
Much of the conversation surrounding licensing laws bubbled to the surface as a result of Covid-19 related restrictions that left many events without much option to adapt as businesses within the State are held to outdated and antiquated licensing laws. These laws, which date back as far as the 19th century, are “long overdue” a reform, according to the Licensed Vintners Association (LVA).
Pre-Covid, most nightclubs started to wind down at about 2 am or so, with pubs mirroring this behaviour too. With most venues forcing people out onto the streets of Dublin at once, resources like takeaways and taxis are used to being overwhelmed with customers at a demand level they cannot meet. It is often at this point of the night that things can get precarious for people: arguments over takeaway orders, trying and failing to get a taxi home, and cars dangerously weaving around college students who could be still learning the layout of Dublin city centre. If there was a lengthening of opening hours, there would be a steady stream of customers leaving nightclubs, meaning food businesses would have a steady stream of customers who they could comfortably serve, and taxis could make several trips with customers, the late-night shift becoming fleshed out enough to warrant the anti-social working hours. This type of development might also potentially see the investment in legitimate late night public transport offerings. Over the past months, Dublin has seen the welcomed introduction of select 24 hour bus routes, including the 39a route which serves UCD, but other parts of the city and the rest of the country are largely quite underserved.
“It is often at this point of the night that things can get precarious for people: arguments over takeaway orders, trying and failing to get a taxi home, and cars dangerously weaving around college students who could be still learning the layout of Dublin city centre.”
There is no doubt this change in legislation would have a large impact on the food service businesses that operate within the late-night socialisation hours. The University Observer spoke to Tom McGuiness, owner of McGuinnesses’ take away on Camden street about the proposed changes, saying that with regard to opening hours and licensing laws “our laws are outdated [and] we are a bit of a laughing stock.” Mr. McGuiness spoke of the negatives associated with the industry when are pre-Covid peak operating levels “anti-social behaviour is a massive issue...my staff get abused, other customers get abused.” He argued that a more drawn out exit from nightclubs would allow his staff the time to correctly and safely serve all the customers who enter his business. When asked about the potential increase in wage costs to keep staff on longer into the early hours of the morning, Mr. McGuiness was confident that it would be money well spent “we would get that back no problem,” “a steady stream of customers would be beneficial to us.” While Mr. McGuiness did denote the presence of antisocial behaviour, it seems to be more so linked to larger groups of people bouncing off the collective energy of the crowds than alcohol intake or even bad intentions. He sees no issue with young people staying out until the morning time. “People getting home at 6 or 7 in the morning is not a problem, they’re just looking for taxis, they’re no danger to people travelling to work.”
While as a business owner it may be fruitful to have your business operational for more hours of the day, the prolonging of a noisy exit of nightclubs can be grating for others. The University Observer spoke to a resident of Synge street in Portobello about how these changes might affect them. “We do experience issues with noise pollution when people are leaving town after nights out, definitely. People can be extremely loud when walking by otherwise silent streets in the middle of the night. There is also a massive issue with rubbish, and people leaving bottles behind them - our dog stepped on broken glass a few months ago and we had to bring him to the vet.” It is accurate that there are little places for the public to bin their rubbish, or other items that aggravate local residents, but is an issue that would be easily fixed by Dublin City Council and the placement of extra public bins. There is little that can be done to enforce silence in areas that are located so close to nightclubs, the same resident admitting somewhat that it comes with the territory “I suppose it’s what you sign up for when deciding to live here, our back garden does look out directly onto Camden street, so I guess there are always going to be minor disturbances.”
“I suppose it’s what you sign up for when deciding to live here, our back garden does look out directly onto Camden street, so I guess there are always going to be minor disturbances.”
The University Observer spoke to a member of staff from Flannery’s on Camden street about the proposed changes to opening hours “I don’t see it being a massive problem to be honest; we have the staff, and are doing shorter shifts because of the reduced capacities and opening hours.” With regard to nightclubs, operating within the longer opening hours should in theory be good for business - there is a clear demand for socialisation in premises like these, with all the hour and 45 minute slots booked out for most evenings of the week, yet not every nightclub is born equal. The University Observer spoke to security personnel from Copper Face Jacks on Harcourt street who painted a very different picture of what is happening inside the business’ doors. They detailed how they were the only staff member currently employed, “we have no staff right now, no floor staff, we don’t even have a manager”. The employee put a large amount of pressure on the proposed October 22nd reopening date, stating that they “hope it will bring some clarity, but right now we are closed.” This is a seemingly anomalous situation, with most other nightclubs in Dublin looking like they have great potential for longer opening hours.
Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin spoke to the University Observer with regard to the introduction of the proposed bill, “I support the Taskforce view that a modernised licensing system will have an important role in revitalising existing Night-Time Economy businesses such as pubs, clubs, hotels and restaurants. The proposed legislative reform process will be used as an opportunity for innovation in the licensing framework to encourage diversity and new economic opportunities in the Night-Time Economy, which also incentivises new investment into the industry.” When asked about the timeline and implementation of the bill, and possible licensing fees business owners may be subject to, Minister Martin responded as such “Changing the current licensing laws will be complex and all matters relating to it will need careful consideration and consultation.”
Martin referred to neighbouring countries' nightclub operating hours “As part of their work, the Taskforce looked at international examples of how successful night-time economies were planned and during the consultation process one thing that came across very strongly, is that collaboration is the cornerstone of a night-time economy for the benefit of all.”
She also addressed the concerns about antisocial behaviour from a local perspective “It is about considering residents, community groups, public authorities, and private operators and all those who have a stake hold in the Night Time Economy, these issues will be taken into account when moving forward on any legislative changes.”
“It is about considering residents, community groups, public authorities, and private operators and all those who have a stake hold in the Night Time Economy.”
This is not just a measure aimed at allowing college students and young adults to party into the early hours of the morning, and although that alone would be reason enough to pursue this bill, it is also a push for overall rejuvenation of the nightlife and socialisation sector of Irish culture, from both a tourism and domestic perspective. While it is unlikely that this bill should see any major roadblocks, most TDs who have been asked about the legislation have expressed optimism in the changes it will bring, it is something that should not have taken the Covid-19 crisis to stir into action. While nightclubs in Ireland are long overdue the freedom to cater to customers for longer time periods, it is doubtful that it will revolutionise the nightclub experience. While there are undeniable benefits that will be seen in real time when the legislation is passed, the real difference this is likely to make is for art and culture spaces that are currently prohibited from serving alcohol, opening late and allowing patrons to truly enjoy the spaces that Dublin and other cities in Ireland are so skilled at curating.